What We Read: Monthly Recap

What We Read: February 2020

Time for another recap already! I would say, “Where has the time gone?” but I know exactly where it has gone and it has gone to gainful employment peppered with a few enjoyable social activities and far too little alone time for your resident curmudgeon. 😉

 

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We went out to dinner for Valentine’s Day though and that was awesome.

 

Here’s January’s reading recap if you’re interested.

 

What Shannon Read in February :

Shannon’s Notes

I got lazy about reviewing February books, but here’s what I have so far:

I am, thanks largely to audiobooks, reading at a breakneck pace, which I fully admit I cannot maintain. I will inevitably tire myself out and end up reading, like, one book a month for half the year…Meanwhile, Ben, a constant and steady reader, will totally eclipse me in a real-life tortoise-hare situation.

What Ben read in February :

Ben’s Notes

The House on First Street: My New Orleans Story by Julia Reed

Very conflicted about this book. To find an author who clearly shares almost the exact same love for New Orleans that I have was delightful. To then find out that I find that same author unlikable is very troubling. This person is me! This person is living a life I would love! I don’t like this person at all! Wait, uh oh…

She clearly comes from a very wealthy background, and sort of tries to play it off like it’s no big deal while at the same time going oddly far out of her way to drop names. She is admittedly rash and irresponsible, but nothing can ever really go wrong because she has seemingly bottomless funds and a squadron of domestic helpers at her disposal. She does at least see the help as individuals and care about some of their lives. Make of that what you will.

When Katrina comes she tosses last night’s champagne and lobster shells in the trash and decamps to her parents’ house a few hours away, where they promptly spot her an extra 5 grand just to tide her over. She returns to find her house basically unscathed and spends the rest of the time buddying up with the National Guard and talking about how the grossly corrupt governor she used to be friends with would have handled the crisis better.

The book left me with Hall and Oates in my head:
“You’re a rich girl, and you’ve gone too far
‘Cause you know it don’t matter anyway
You can rely on the old man’s money
….
High and dry, out of the rain
It’s so easy to hurt others when you can’t feel pain…”

Play It Loud: An Epic History of the Style, Sound, and Revolution of the Electric Guitar by Alan di Perna and Brad Tolinski

An enjoyable survey of my somewhat newfound hobby. Some of the Gibson/Fender/don’t-forget-McCarty history was already covered by the more narrowly focused “Play It Loud” but it was fun to get another perspective on those years, and this book moved quickly enough that I didn’t feel bogged down in covering the same ground.
While most of the book is history, the authors do get current enough to cover the White Stipes/Black Keys “garage rock revival” movement, and make some interesting points about how formerly scorned guitar brands/models are now getting their time to shine as cool vintage artifacts.

There’s some late musing about what the future of the instrument might be and its overall significance. That part is brief, but to the authors’ credit they do support their musings about the future with themes developed throughout the book.
For any one specific guitar topic, there’s probably a more detailed book. But if you want a one-book course on The Electric Guitar In History and Culture this would be a great contender.

King of Ashes by Raymond Feist 

Bringing back a beloved name in epic fantasy. Feist is a guy whose work I read a lot back in the day, and then kinda felt like I outgrew it. But while browsing I saw that he had just published book one of a new series and decided to give it a shot for old times’ sake. Turns out our man still writes some very enjoyable character-driven page turners.

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Fiction, Re-reading Project, What Shannon Read

Re-reading Project: Object of My Affection

ObjectofMyAffectionBookA while ago I realized I was slowly buying and re-reading all the books I loved as a teenager and young adult.

When I remember a book, I buy it and am slowly re-stocking my library with books I loved during those formative years.

I thought it would be fun to track this, sort of a side reading project. You know how I love a reading project: Exhibit A, Exhibit B.

Last night I finished Object of My Affection by Stephen McCauley. I enjoyed it. I had to laugh at Teenage Shannon though. Why this book in particular? What drew me to it in the first place? Why did I read it five or so times at the age of 16? How odd and endearing.

The story is about narrator George Mullen, who is gay and lives in Brooklyn with his closest friend, Nina. When Nina becomes pregnant and decides to keep and raise the baby, she asks George to raise the baby with her.

The narrative becomes a peculiar will-they-won’t-they, but not between two lovers, as we’re generally used to. Instead, we follow the friendship between two people who are wholly devoted to one another, but must navigate a huge change ushered in by circumstance.

I love the character of George. He’s just so relatable. He has fears about being underemployed, for one thing. He’s a kindergarten teacher at a private school in Manhattan and he gets criticized for this even though he’s clearly good at his job.

McCauley excels at writing dialogue and I particularly enjoyed George’s conversations with his little student Doran Dunne, whose parents are battling through a divorce and constantly fighting over him. At one point, George loses his temper with Doran, then apologizes (Daniel and Theodora are Doran’s parents):

Excerpt I also enjoyed the tight focus on the main characters. There’s George and Nina, of course, but also Nina’s boyfriend Howard and George’s coworker, Melissa.

Howard is a wonderful character. He’s a big personality, a take-charge legal aid attorney, who is deeply in love with Nina and has hilarious nicknames for her “She’s a Dumpling!” he declares to George at one point, crying on the couch after Nina begins to push him away.

All in all, I wonder if it’s the unique characters and Brooklyn setting that captured the attention of Teenage Shannon. I’m going with that.

I’m leaving out whole parts/themes of the book in this review, like George’s love life, but maybe you’ll want to discover those for yourself. I recommend it and am glad I re-read it. Good find, Teenage Shannon.

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Audiobooks, Fiction, What Shannon Read

Two decent thrillers with unreliable narrators

I was painting the trim in the upstairs bathroom this weekend and used the opportunity to listen to a couple of audiobooks while I worked.

Both psychological “thriller” type novels, they really captured my attention and I ended up just lying in bed part of yesterday and finishing the second one. This may or may not be related to the fact that I, ahem, overindulged a bit on Saturday night.


49199918._SX318_The first was The Housekeeper by Natalie Barelli.

I mentioned last Friday that I was listening to this, saying how much I loved the narrator, Susie Berneis, who totally made the experience for me. I honestly don’t think I would have read this in regular hard copy format. But Berneis’ wry tone and husky smoker’s voice kept me listening.

The story follows Claire, a young woman on a mission to clear her father’s name and enact justice on the woman, former nanny Hannah Wilson, who Claire believes ruined her family’s lives.

It’s a twisted tale with a somewhat unreliable narrator. Claire is underemployed, lazy, conniving, and really kind of a mean person. She’s out for revenge and you don’t really know why until about a third of the way through the story when it is revealed that as a young woman Hannah worked in Claire’s family’s home as a nanny while Claire was growing up. After a few months, Hannah went home and then accused Claire’s father of molesting her. The wealthy family lost everything during her father’s trial and both Claire’s parents died in dramatic fashion.

Now, Claire is working as a housekeeper under a fake name in Hannah’s home, also caring for Hannah’s baby, Mia. But as she gets more involved in their lives, from reading Hannah’s diary to attempting to lure her husband Harvey into an affair, it turns out Claire is not the only one in the household living a double life.

Dum dum dum…..

This book was just good, juicy, dramatic (and yes, sometimes melodramatic) fun.

I did think the reveal about Hannah’s accusations came a bit too soon. And the drama-filled ending was kind of rushed. Too many reveals all at once. It was kind of cheesy. But I still enjoyed it, the way some people would enjoy a soap opera. It’s generally well-written and the characters are interesting.

Claire reminded me of Marie in Bad Marie or the protagonist in My Year of Rest and Relaxation. Not a great person, but you kind of root for her anyway.


49188648._SX318_Next, Hoopla, the app I listen on through the library, recommended The Wives by Tarryn Fisher and I cued it up.

It’s read by a talented narrator and actress,  Lauren Fortgang. I quite enjoyed her young-sounding but very clear voice.

The narrator of this story, who we know as “Thursday,” begins by telling us about her relationship with her husband Seth.

She is Seth’s second and official wife. But he has two others. This is an arrangement Seth has offered Thursday and she has agreed to live the life of a polygamist, never meeting or talking to Seth’s other wives, attempting to be satisfied with seeing her husband only on Thursdays.

Out of curiosity and rising jealousy, however, Thursday begins to investigate Seth’s other wives. She knows only what he tells her about them, that his first wife, Regina, never wanted children and instead was focused on her career as an attorney. That’s why Seth sought out a relationship with Thursday. He wanted a family and Thursday was in love with him, happy to bear his children. Unfortunately, Thursday became pregnant and her baby died. She then had an emergency hysterectomy. And then Seth added a third wife, Hannah, to the mix. Hannah is currently pregnant with Seth’s child.

This drama is all forced to a head by Thursday’s snooping and what you think you know about each character is called into question at the halfway point. From there, Thursday reveals herself to be unreliable as a narrator, but we only see the story from her perspective.

It’s a fascinating tangled web and there are some very dramatic revelations toward the end. Some tidy, some cheesy, all enjoyable.


I find I get frustrated with unreliable narrators. It’s a trope I tend to avoid. But both of these books were so fun, specifically because you couldn’t trust the protagonist’s points of view.

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Friday Fives

Friday Fives: February 14, 2020 <3

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Just two bacons in love

❤ Happy Valentine’s Day! ❤

How do you celebrate?

I know folks that view V-Day as a made-up holiday that only benefits Hallmark and others that go all out, exchanging gifts and stuff.

Ben and I generally go out to a nice dinner, either the day of or around the day. This year, we were on top of that shit and Ben made us reservations at a fancy local spot.

They have my favorite soup ever made in the history of soup—mushroom, with real cream drizzled over the top. Fat kid heaven. 🙂

I also like to get both Jake and Ben some treats. And myself of course. Gotta’ keep up that Reese’s intake for optimum health.

What are you up to?


Friday Fives:

MOnty with Nellie and Nigel in the jewel and grass borders

I mean, look at him with those faithful doggos 😭

What I’m Watching: 

Nothing bc I am reading like a maniac. But as spring becomes more of a presence in my mind, I will turn to Gardeners’ World because Monty Don is one of the most soothing people on TV. He would really give Mr. Rogers a run for his money. I keep worrying that he’s a jerk in real life, which would crush me.


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The jury is out.

What I’m Reading:

Just finished up What We Lose by Zinzi Clemmons. So good.

I’ve started Birdcage Walk by Helen Dunmore but am having trouble getting into it. Anyone have any opinions to share on that one?

After loving Ethan Frome, I also bought all of Edith Wharton’s novels for 99¢ on Kindle. So there’s that option…


The Housekeeper by Natalie BarelliWhat I’m Listening to:

The Housekeeper by Natalie Barelli —It’s a psychological thriller that involves a housekeeper/nanny, so you know I’m in. It is read by a new-to-me narrator, Susie Berneis, who gives a delightful performance. Her tone is wry and she sounds like she’s been smoking for 20 years. I love it.


Capture

Giant heart eyes for this bathroom

What I’m Making: 

I’m working on gussying up our upstairs bathroom, which is taking the place of my artwork lately. The walls are gray and I’m painting the trim black. Shooting for the kind of aesthetic displayed by @offbeat.vintage.girl on Instagram.

Give her a follow if you love vintage/dark colors/have an older home.


What I’m Loving:

Kolaj magazine. It is brilliant. I save every issue for a special amount of time, when I can read every word and examine every page of artwork. It’s quarterly and I wish it were monthly because I literally want to jump into the pages and live in them.

collage

Too much gorgeous. Can’t compute.


Tell me what you’re reading and/or fascinated by right now.

I need more internet rabbit holes to fall down!

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Fiction, What Shannon Read

What We Lose

33280160You know how people sometimes compliment a nonfiction book by saying that it reads like fiction?

Well, What We Lose by Zinzi Clemmons is a novel that reads like nonfiction—but I mean that as a compliment!

Thanks to the first-person narration, the interspersed photos, and the very real history, this book read like a memoir to me in the best possible way.

The excellent first-person narration is the star of Clemmons’ show. Protagonist Thandi has been raised in Philadelphia by a South African mother, who is a nurse, and American father, who is a professor and administrator at a private college. They are close with Thandi’s mother’s family in South Africa and they own a vacation home there.

Due to her light skin, and being raised in a suburban neighborhood, attending schools with mostly upper-middle-class white kids, Thandi walks a cultural tightrope, feeling neither here nor there when it comes to race.

In high school, a white classmate tells her she’s “not like a real black person,” meaning it as a compliment. And, when Thandi gets into a prestigious college, another sneers “affirmative action.”

Meanwhile, we learn how apartheid South Africa has shaped her mother’s world view and Thandi grapples with her mother’s opinions and big personality, coupled with grief now that she is dying of cancer.

Clemmons hits you with this grief from the first scene of the novel, where Thandi and her father are sharing a meal together, her mother’s absence a paradoxical presence between them.

Interspersed throughout the story are historical discussions that range from apartheid to women who marry serial killers, often complemented by black and white photos. There are also pages with just one poetic sentence, like “Sex is kicking death in the ass while singing.” Surprising, but totally relevant within the context of the story. Both ugly and beautiful at the same time.

The whole arrangement of parts gives a sort of “collage” feel to the book and you really do have to read the entire thing, viewing it as a single body, if that makes sense, to appreciate it.

Clemmons is an immensely talented writer and she makes it work. I read it in an evening and I’m glad I did.

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2020 When Are You Reading? Challenge, Fiction, What Shannon Read

When Are You Reading? Challenge: The Ballroom

This year, I’m participating in the When Are You Reading? Challenge hosted by Sam of Taking on a World of Words.

This book is my selection for the years 1900-1919.


26797014I don’t seek out books about insane asylums, but when one presents itself, I am certain to check it out from the library.

In particular, The Ballroom by Anna Hope presented itself on my last library trip.

Set in 1911, the story revolves around three central characters, Ella Fay and John Mulligan, two patients (inmates), and Dr. Charles Fuller, a doctor at the asylum. The asylum is located in Yorkshire, England at the edge of those moors wandered by Jane Eyre & co.

The asylum is everything you’d expect a 1911 insane asylum to be. There are terrible people in charge, Nurse Ratchets everywhere, and the accommodations are lacking in basic necessities, heat for example.

The inmates work to keep the asylum running, doing laundry and growing food, etc. John, in fact, digs graves at the beginning of the story, and Ella is put on laundry duty.

The circumstances around Ella’s imprisonment are heartbreaking. A worker in an Irish clothing factory, Ella is driven by sheer boredom and despair to an action that lands her in the asylum. I won’t spoil it for you though. John’s story is equally sad.

As the book progresses, Ella and John find each other at one of the asylum’s Friday dances, which take place in, you guessed it, the ballroom. The fact that they even have a ballroom is wild, but that is explained in the story too.

Lording over the ballroom is Dr. Fuller, Charles, as we come to know him, who is not just a doctor, but a talented musician and official band director for the asylum. A man of his times, Charles is, I’m sorry to tell you, interested in eugenics, and wants to pioneer sterilization of the poor and insane at the asylum.

Throughout the story, we get a peek into common treatments of the “insane” and daily life in an asylum in Edwardian England. That’s really what I was in it for. If you are too, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

The book was immensely readable. Hope is a talented writer who pulls you right along from the beginning. I did wish the story focused on the perspective of one character, Ella, but then we wouldn’t know as much about Charles, a complex character with a secret.

In the end, I enjoyed this book very much, though I don’t see it becoming a favorite.

Sorry for the bland review. My brain is full thanks to work right now.

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Fiction, Top Ten Tuesday

Top Ten Tuesday: 10 historical fiction books I loved

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The three loves of my life in one pic

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly top ten list hosted by Jana at Artsy Reader Girl.

This week, the theme is ❤ love ❤ . Since I’m doing a historical reading challenge this year, I thought it might be fun to share historical fiction I’ve read and loved in the past.

Here goes!


1. The Winthrop Woman by Anya Seton

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I discovered Anya Seton’s excellent historical fiction last year and started with The Winthrop Woman. It features a strong female character in colonial America. I now want to read all her books.

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2. The King’s General by Daphne du Maurier

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Featuring another strong female in a different era – the English civil war. Funny, I always think of du Maurier as one of my favorite authors and yet I’ve only read two of her books. This and Rebecca. Must remedy that.

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3. Clara Callan by Richard B. Wright

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Set in rural Ontario, this one is about two sisters and their relationship, as well as their different choices during a time of cultural upheaval. Clara’s sister moves to NYC to become a radio star and something terrible changes Clara’s life. Just talked myself into re-reading it…

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4. The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place by Julie Berry

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Murder at an English boarding school. What could be better? I’ll tell you. The audiobook version being read by the talented Jayne Entwistle, that’s what.

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5. The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters

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Lesbian characters, 1920s London, murder, Sarah Waters’ incredible storytelling. Audiobook read by Juliet Stevenson. You can’t go wrong.

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6. The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom

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More strong female characters, this time enslaved women of the antebellum South.

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7. Doc by Mary Doria Russell 

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I freakin’ love Doc Holliday. And at the hands of Mary Doria Russell, he comes to life, as does the 19th-century American West.

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8. The Chaperone by Laura Moriarty

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Starring the woman who is hired to be the chaperone of early film star Louise Brooks. I might re-read this one too, actually.

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9. Rules of Civility by Amor Towles 

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If you enjoy tangled webs of tricky and codependent relationships played out to great drama in historic settings, you’ll probably like this as much as I did.

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10. Brief Gaudy Hour: A Novel of Anne Boleyn by Margaret Campbell Barnes

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One of my favorite English queens through the eyes of Margaret Campbell Barnes, a talented writer who probably doesn’t get remembered as she should. And isn’t that a great book title?

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I could go on, but this is a top ten. I just adore this genre. As you can tell, I lean toward women’s stories, though the books I’ve listed here are mostly focused on white women’s stories. I aim to read more diverse books this year.

That said, got any historical fiction recommendations for me? Bonus points if they feature minority women characters!

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